Turns out, governments- or at least some of the mindless enforcers that work for them- don’t appreciate unconventional lifestyles. This is a pretty epic pain in the ass for those of us who have spent some time living such lifestyles. I did what society wanted me to do up until the age of 22: tried hard and did well in school, graduated, entered the workforce for three years, and was en route to being a functioning member of society. As a lot of you know, this didn’t last long. To be exact, I played the game for about a month before making an impromptu decision to quit my job and travel- a decision that resulted from experiencing a week of volunteer English-teaching in Poland.
Fast forward four years to May 2016. After living in Australia for a year, failing at cycling up New Zealand, and visiting friends and family in the U.S. and Canada, J and I set off for the U.K. to celebrate his dad’s 60th birthday. I have entered the U.K. on around 8 or 9 occasions, and I’ve never had a huge problem beyond cranky, disgruntled border patrol. I’ve never done anything wrong nor have I overstayed my welcome. This time, though, I was destined for a real treat.
Upon arriving, J and I went to our respective queues- he to the UK/EU, and I to the “other”. He obviously walked straight through, signaling to me that he’d go collect our bags. After a while, I was called up to the section of an extremely unpleasant-looking woman. I won’t bore you with every detail of what occurred for the next two hours; rather, I’ll give you a synopsis of our exchange.
Woman: Why are you here?
Me: To visit my boyfriend’s family.
Woman: Where is he, then?
Me: Getting the bags. He went through the UK resident section.
Woman: Who paid for your ticket?
Me (puzzled): I did.
This person then proceeded to grill me for the next 30 minutes, accusing me of trying to enter the UK on false pretenses. I had an (honest) answer for every single question, but she did not believe it feasible that I had been employed in other countries, that I could afford to travel on a budget (even though I offered her of this website as proof), and that I could be in a four-year relationship with a British citizen. I was escorted to a holding room without being given any legal explanation as to why and waited for a quarter of an hour before repeating the questioning process. After nearly an hour, the woman asked me for a description of J so that she could go interrogate him on the other side. The waiting game resumed.
Our stories matched, probably because they were true. I suspect that the woman questioned some of my stories due to the fact that I had recently gotten a new passport, so the only stamps that I had were from the past six months instead of four years. This is not a crime, and I am not obligated to carry around every passport I have ever owned. The height of ridiculousness in this saga had to be when Ms. Officer repeatedly asked me where I was going after the U.K. and I repeatedly answered with Slovenia, a country that she had not heard of and thus, must not exist. How insulting to a fellow EU member?!
In two hours I was accused, whether outwardly or through implication, of: lying about places that I’ve been, not being with the person I’ve been with for 4 years, not knowing the family that I’ve visited on multiple occasions, not being in constant possession of a photo of my partner, not buying my own plane ticket, being suspicious for not carrying a long-term cell phone, and, lastly, fictitiously creating the country of Slovenia.
This experience left a very sour taste in my mouth, to say the least. There are undoubtedly loads of people who have experienced far worse at border controls, and I do not mean to demean them. I write this blog to share my experiences and mine alone. That episode at Gatwick Airport is an official competitor facing off against my previous worst day of travel because it left me with unanswered questions, an unexplained black mark on my passport, and general feelings of discomfort which resulted from unnecessary fear tactics and a short temper.
To this day, I’m unsure of what “crime” I committed- this is because the female officer took the paper explaining the detainment away from me and denied my request to have it back for reference. My best guess based on the specifics of my interrogation: living a life that Ms. Customs Officer did not understand.
‘My best guess based on the specifics of my interrogation: living a life that Ms. Customs Officer did not understand.’
Based on that comment a more likely explanation is she reacted negatively to your self-righteous & pompous attitude.
I’m sorry that you feel that way, M. Cane. I’m sure that people who know me or who have had similar experiences would understand more adequately. I referred to her as ‘Ms. Customs Officer’ because I do not know her name. I don’t mean this to be insulting, even though she was unpleasant to me from the second I stepped up to her desk. I’d also like to share that this has now happened to me four times in the span of six months after not happening a single time in four years. When I finally got the gaul to stand up for myself and ask why I was being held, the border patrolman told me that it was because “traveling so frequently is unusual” and “not having a job in your home country is suspicious”. This, I think, perfectly exemplifies that point that I was trying to make in this article: people judge and disapprove of what they don’t know or understand. Takin the road-less-traveled often makes you a target to criticism and, at the very least, questioning. I don’t think that makes me self-righteous or pompous- I share things to provide insight to others, especially those who might find themselves in a similar situation. Best, Leah.